Quick Review Of “Armenian” Symphony

Last night we attended a performance by the Armenian Symphony, better known as the Oakland East Bay Symphony.  Their 2.5 hour concert was inspiring because the arc of the programming, as major symphonic works took center stage.

The program started with a traditional Mozart warm-up, which sounded beautiful in the Paramount Theater.  Then the epic Khachaturian took us on a journey, filled with many different themes including a little folk music – and it was clearly the high point of the evening.

After intermission, a modern-sounding Mirzoyan was performed with plenty of tension and sadness.  Then four shorter works followed, including “symphonic panels” appropriately titled Armenia and two full-bore choral and orchestral songs.  We noticed a lot of people applauding those final vocals!

Virtuoso Appearance: The guest violinist, Mikhail Simonyan, has Armenian roots and lives in NYC these days.  Simonyan is only in his twenties, yet seemed at ease while performing Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto in D Major.  Right off the bat, you could hear his joy.  If I had one criticism, then it was when the folk-inspired section arrived with a bunch of lackluster lower notes.  Yet the entire performance was amazingly energized – here, here!

Mirzoyan Piece: This four-movement symphony was a conversation between strings and kettledrums.  Composer Edvard Mirzoyan’s an 88-year-old who hasn’t created many symphonies, and this work should be better known.  There were some themes and sections that captivated us, especially all the repetitive notes among the strings.  While written back in 1962, the music sounded modern and offered an intense, aural landscape.

Overall Review: We’ll give the concert a B+ tonight.  We have to say this was extra-ambitious!  You could feel the excitement in the Paramount, as our hometown orchestra performed these sophisticated and cool masterworks.  They modulated really well and didn’t overplay, and I give props to Michael Morgan’s podium leadership.  The Khachaturian symphony drew the biggest ovations last night, but we think it’s darn difficult to perform.  The last vocal pieces also were lovely, but we wanted more of them.

We have to share one thumbs-down from the evening, though.  We didn’t understand the penchant for applauding at the end of movements.  Clearly the orchestra ignored the mid-symphony applause and stayed focused on their performances.  Could local concert-goers please get it together?

Closing The Budget Gaps, Maturely

Lately, the members of Make Oakland Better Now! have been putting their water glasses against the walls of Oakland homes and public places.  They are eager to learn what everyone thinks about closing this year’s budget gaps, currently pegged at $9 million.

MOBN doesn’t have any political axes to grind, but does want to communicate collective thoughts to the Oakland City Council before they make final budget cuts on February 16th.  MOBN leader Bruce Nye let us know that all Oaklanders may cast their ballots, through Friday at 5pm:  vote here.

What’s in this budget priorities ballot?  You’ll be able to support or oppose specific public safety, personnel and other cuts as well as revenue-generating (tax) measures.   Then you’ll be able to offer your own suggestions, too.

We encourage you to cast your ballot, and rest assured your opinions will be presented clearly to all the City Council members.  Although Oakland’s dealing with Hobson’s Choices, it’s better to consider the possibilities than remain part of the silent majority.

The Rains And Floods Report

Today’s official rains and floods report is…no disasters yet.

However we traveled due east today, and discovered the Caldecott Tunnel traffic was backed up.  One of the three bores closed by midday, due to flooding problems.  Caltrans workers are still fixing things, and expect to re-open the third bore by tomorrow’s commute.

Back in Oakland, the Public Works department experienced a tsunami of calls today.  They decided to issue a release, which says we need to chill out a little bit.

A heavier than usual call volume has been received by the Public Works Call Center, and while no major issues have been encountered so far, some neighborhoods have experienced flooding and  tree damage which crews are responding to.  There have been no reports of mudslides or trees blocking streets, however Public Works is keeping a close eye on the continuing storm movements and the accompanying winds.

Remember the biggest storm round is forecast for tomorrow, so keep your fingers crossed.  If you do experience storm-related damage, then make sure to call Oakland’s Public Works Call Center at (510) 615-5566.

Montclarions Speak: Actors You Love

With the arrival of the movie awards season, it’s time to create a celebrity splash.  Based on our highly scientific survey, we’re ready to reveal the actors and actresses you love most.

The results are filled with well-known performers, but they are a real mix!  They come from independent as well as blockbuster movies.  They don’t all come from the latest pages of celebrity magazines, either.

Montclair’s Favorite Actors

This past year, your top actor picks were George Clooney, Clint Eastwood, Colin Firth and Robert Pattinson.  They changed plenty when switching to favorites this decade,  as Johnny Depp topped the list followed by George Clooney, Daniel Day Lewis, and Will Farrell.

Moving to favorite actors of all time, you loved Tom Hanks, Marlon Brando, Robert Redford and Harrison Ford.  We think the aughts weren’t permanently imprinted on the local cultural zeitgeist.

Montclair’s Favorite Actresses

During 2009, you favored Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Amy Adams and Kristen Stewart.  Looking at the past decade, you kept Meryl Streep on the list and replaced the others with Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon and Kate Winslet.

Gazing across the decades, the most-loved actresses were Meryl Streep (a three-peat), Jodie Foster, Katharine Hepburn and Frances McDormand.  Let’s go watch their tour de forces, right now.

Takeaway On Montclarion Tastes

We seem to enjoy good dramatic performers more than anything else, and avoid the all-American action stars.  Familiarity is a good thing, as our favorites have plenty of performances under their collective belts (Twilight stars excepted).

And everyone seems to dig George and Meryl, far and above the rest.

Oakland Dog Meets Goat

In Oakland, we do have a couple farm animals.  You need to know where to look, but city dogs can definitely meet a city goat or two.

Here’s some photographic proof.  Let’s start with this local dog who, like many around the hills, was out on a daily stroll.  The pooch was leashed and not running free, but still asked its human to visit Valley View’s billies.

Clearly the dog wanted to meet-and-greet the goats, and came right up to the fence surrounding them.  Here you see one goat who returned the favor and showed interest in this alien being.  While both are curious, the goat is a little wary and standing back.

We really enjoy the goats around here.  There are temporary “hired hands,” munching on the grass and preventing fires.  And there are permanent goat residents, which are a welcomed anachronism.

Taking A Drive On Grizzly Peak

We drive on Grizzly Peak all the time, so the news about a driver killed there yesterday hit close to home.  The Tribune reported that an SUV driver took a curve sharply, the vehicle fell 250 feet, and the victim was ejected en route.  This accident news felt like a sucker punch.

It could happen to anyone.  How often have you raced across the ridge roads, and thought “that was close” to yourself?  Driven up to an East Bay Regional Park, only thinking about the hiking trails ahead?  Or headed over to Berkeley, with your mind elsewhere?  Guilty as charged for me, on all three counts.

There’s no easy answer to living with windy, circuitous boulevards that everyone takes too quickly.  It doesn’t matter if you are a regular visitor or tourist there.  We like these ridgelines and stellar views, and simply accept the risks for the rewards.

Maybe the only takeaway is that we try driving with a bit more consciousness, up in the hills.

Casual Carpool Changes Too?

Casual carpoolers, get ready to open your wallets and purses as you drive across the Oakland Bay Bridge.  Starting this July, the Bay Area Toll Authority has decided to charge carpoolers for the first time!

This action, as well as other toll increases, was approved by the Authority’s oversight committee yesterday.  It’s expected to receive final Authority approval by month’s end.

On the Bay Bridge, each carpool will need to pay a $2.50 toll heading into San Francisco.  By contrast, regular-old drivers will shell out $6.00 per rush-hour trip.  It’s going to cost $4.00 off-peak and $5.00 weekend hours.

But we wonder how the casual carpools are going to change.  Today there’s an entire protocol related to sharing rides as a free, trustworthy service.  With this new twist, are free-riders supposed to kick in part of the toll?  Or are the drivers picking up the whole, but discounted, fare on their own?

Something to ponder.